In 2015, the FDA formally warned Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company that their “natural” and “additive-free” claims for its Natural American Spirit cigarettes conveyed reduced harm to consumers. In a settlement, Santa Fe was allowed to continue using the word “natural” in the brand name and the phrase “tobacco and water”. The company also uses eco-friendly language and plant imagery and these tactics have also been shown to communicate reduced product harm. In this study, we propose the health halo effect as an overarching framework for explaining how these ad tactics mislead consumers in an effort to provide more comprehensive guidance for regulatory action. In a between-subjects experiment, 1,577 US young adults, ages 18–24, were randomly assigned to view one of five Natural American Spirit cigarette ads featuring either: 1) eco-friendly language; 2) plant imagery; 3) the phrase “tobacco and water”; 4) all of these tactics; or 5) a control condition featuring none of these tactics. In line with past research, ads with the phrase “tobacco and water” or with all the tactics together (vs. control) created a health halo effect, increasing perceptions that Natural American Spirit cigarettes were healthier and had less potential to cause disease; these tactics also had an indirect positive effect on smoking intentions through reduced perceptions of the brand’s potential to cause disease and perceived absolute harm. Inconsistent with prior work, the eco-friendly language and plant imagery (vs. control) reduced healthfulness perceptions, increased perceptions of absolute harm, and had an indirect negative effect on smoking intentions. We contribute to past research showing that Natural American Spirit cigarette ad tactics mislead consumers. Inconsistent findings are explained in terms of stimuli design and processing of message features, indices of relative message persuasiveness, and multiple versus single-message designs.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Health(social science)